The first time I met Bill Lee, the guy who is triggering a huge turnout of Tennessee voters across the state, I instantly liked him, admired him, and must have told a dozen friends that day we have the most exciting guy going to the Governor’s Mansion we’ve ever had. The best reason is because Bill Lee is real. His opponent, Karl Dean, is a Democrat and a longtime politician. Go with the “Doer of Deeds” instead of the guy who has talked a lot, and mostly about stupid stuff.
The fact Dean, the former mayor of Nashville, doesn’t have a cut dog’s chance, yet has still frivolously spent millions of other people’s money, tells you all you need to know. The waste is incredible and think of ways we could have used it to better our schools, to lighten the load of our mentally ill, and stifled our famine of blue collar work force.
Bill actually started a “college” in his thriving company to train fine young people to do honest work, and as the early voting for the Nov. 6 election is drawing bigger crowds than expected, Lee is stumping to bring vocation arts – real world stuff -- back into our public schools. We now know the liberal elite slipped us the dagger when Kirkman Tech was torn down so most of us could flounder around in algebra II instead.
Seriously, look what happened. Volkswagen needs 2,000 more workers today. The lack of a labor force is all that’s holding them back. I’m talking they’ll hire you as you are hanging up your coat. Kenny Smith, with the electrician’s union, will hire any “good ones” he can get “right now, today” and teach them for free two nights a week in a proven apprentice program.
The biggest problem with high school graduates is the real test – the drug test. It would boggle your mind at job fairs when these great kids – who you would hire in a heart beat -- take the specimen cup to the rest room and suddenly disappear. They know they can’t pass so, instead, they are forced to pass instead on a $30 an hour job.
I went to work at age 12. It was nothing to be told to thread a pipe, bend conduit, work sheet metal … by 14 I could do it all and I loved every day. My greatest teachers, by far, were the crews that worked for our family. If school was out and I wasn’t working I’d better have a real good reason. I started writing in my senior year and, again, the greatest teachers at a newspaper were those who worked there. (Tip: Never hire a journalism grad – an English major is 10 times better at a newspaper.)
The biggest lie in America is a college education. High schools talk about “college ready” all the time when we should be focusing on “life ready.” Back to Kenny Smith. We both know the average student at UT will be $30,000 in debt after the six years it takes for 60 percent to graduate. But if the same kid goes into the electrical apprentice program, he’s tacking down $60,000 a year, has a car that’s paid and, unlike the college student, he’s already got a great job he likes.
Don’t get me wrong. Colleges have a great purpose, and there is great wisdom to be had, but look at tuition costs, the six-year guys like me are so much happier making a difference instead of hounding their folks for money.
Again, what will make Bill Lee a landslide winner is because “he gets it.” He knows the key to success is hard work, walking with a purpose, setting a new goal. “As governor, I’ll work to improve our workforce development pipeline, increase choice and transparency in our schools, and focus on recruiting the best and brightest to lead schools and classrooms,” he’s promised.
“The newfound focus on vocational and technical education is today’s talking point,” he said, “but that’s been my life for 35 years. I tell people I am not a politician … instead, my company employs 1,200 working Tennesseans, hundreds of which are skilled tradesmen who are in rewarding careers without a college degree. And even though we were named the best place to work among large employers in Tennessee, and it’s a challenge to fill the jobs we have. We can’t find enough employees.
“We finally partnered with our local public schools, and we built our own trade school which has graduated over 1,000 adults with industry-standard technical training,” he said and the way it works is those who go to the Lee Company’s training school become the Lee Company’s better employees. “You darn right we coach ‘em!”
“A good education isn’t defined only by a test score. It’s realized in a student who becomes a whole person and has the skills needed for a successful career,” he has said repeatedly. “That’s why my top priority for education is bringing more vocational, technical, and agricultural education into our schools, equipping more students with real job skills at the time of high school graduation.
“We have no other choice,” our next governor believes. “We have to change the status quo for an entire generation of Tennesseans because the need for technically skilled workers is greater in Tennessee than ever before.”
And if you don’t believe it, just read the sign on the back of the plumber’s truck: “We repair what your husband fixed.”